Hold fire! Condemned Sunderland fire station is city’s busiest with 5,000 calls

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A FIRE station set to be axed as part of multimillion pound cuts has been the busiest in Wearside for the past four years, the Echo can reveal.

Despite having more fire call-outs than anywhere else in the city, fire bosses have opted to shut the station as part of £8.8million cuts over the next three years.

Today, the Echo launches its Hold Fire campaign.

Backed by MPs and union bosses, we are calling for the Fire Authority to reconsider their plans for the Railway Row base.

According to figures obtained by the Echo, Sunderland Central Community Fire Station is the city’s busiest for:

•Fire call-outs: 659 in the past four years.

•More minor fire incidents: 2,203 in the past four years

•False alarm call-outs: 2,154 in past four years

Bosses at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service argue that despite being the busiest in the city, the station has seen a year-on-year decline in the number of incidents attended.

They claim that by moving the station out of the city centre and concentrating resources on the periphery, they will still be able to maintain a dependable service.

Sunderland Central station covers the Barnes, Millfield, St Michaels, Pallion, Hendon and Ryhope wards of the city.

Last month’s announcement that the station would be axed prompted anger from workers and union bosses who accused the service of playing with the lives of Wearsiders.

Today, Dave Turner, Fire Brigade Union North East regional secretary, said: “Not only is the station the busiest in Sunderland, it’s the third busiest across the whole area.

“We are being told the outlying stations will be able to cover the city centre, but you tell that to someone trapped in a house fire who is waiting for a fire engine to come all the way from Fulwell or Farringdon.”

Sunderland now faces having no city centre fire or main police station after Northumbria Police announced similar plans to close Gill Bridge earlier this month.

Sunderland Central Community Fire Station opened in May 1993 by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, has said she plans to fight to keep the station open and dismissed the consultation that was carried out by the Fire Authority prior to their decision.

She added: “It’s crucial this station remains open. We have tower blocks and an industrial port close to the city centre – we need a station here.

“I will do everything I can to make sure this is looked at again.

“The fire brigade say they can get into the city centre in six minutes from the outlying stations. But that’s just on paper. The city centre must have a station.”

The consultation, carried out across the whole of the Tyne and Wear area between last October and January 1 this year, attracted just 233 responses from members of the public, 48 from Service staff and a handful of others.

The station is also home to the Phoenix Project which runs in conjunction with Sunderland’s Youth Offending Team and has, over the years, helped educate and train thousands of young people.

TYNE and Wear Fire and Rescue Service today responded to concerns about the station’s closure.

John Hall, group manager for Sunderland District, said: “The current Government has set the public sector a particularly challenging target in terms of cost savings.

“In an ideal world, I’d rather not see any change in how we look, but we have to adapt to meet the challenge, whilst still maintaining an effective service to our community. The Fire Authority has made a decision about how that will happen.

“We place great value in our preventative work, in order to try and stop fires and other calls occurring in the first place. Our teams carry out around 8,000 home safety checks with smoke alarm fittings per year in the Sunderland District.

“We also have a targeted Schools Education programme and diversionary programmes designed for young people. All of which contributes to reducing the incidence of fire and helps us to keep our appliances available for the protection of the community.

“We think that being proactive and working together has contributed to our calls decreasing year-on-year in many cases. For example, in the Sunderland District we have witnessed a 36 per cent fall in the number of primary (property) fires and a 51 per cent fall in secondary (rubbish/grassland) fires in the four years since 2009/10.

“The option the Fire Authority has chosen will change the number of fire stations and appliances in Sunderland and I appreciate people’s concerns about this. I’d like to reassure the public that we will continue to work hard to provide the same level of service to our community in the future despite the savings we have to make.”